Your View: A call for honest discussion about sharks, seals


By Roger Raffee

La Jolla

L. Jordan-Smith follows one fallacy with another in dismissing concerns that human-sponsored intentional increasing of the seal population in La Jolla will increase the possibility that great white sharks will visit the area.

First she stated as true an untrue statement that great whites’ movements do not follow the movements of seal populations. Then she made another fallacious argument by revising her earlier statement to then stating that because historically great whites have not been drawn to the meager seal population in La Jolla that we therefore have nothing to worry about.

Her new statement is true but is a new fallacy because it completely ignores the issue being addressed. I agree that historically great whites haven’t been paying much attention to the seal population in La Jolla. The real question is whether or not that will continue to be the case if we intentionally encourage increasing the seal population in La Jolla in the future.

Ms. Jordan-Smith also accuses me of trying to scare La Jollans. I’m not trying to scare anyone — I’m scared.

I am 52 and have been surfing all over California and Hawaii since I was 7 years old. I prefer surfing with no leash. I like the exercise I get swimming in for my surfboard. I used to surf the big waves on the North Shore of Oahu, and all over the Hawaiian Islands. I didn’t like the feeling of the leash dragging in the water behind me tugging at my leg, slowing me down. I used to surf Sunset Beach on Oahu all winter with no leash. Many surfers use their leashes as lifelines to climb up when they get shoved down deep out there. It takes a lot of skill and being in incredible shape to surf with no leash at Sunset Beach on a regular basis.

I’ve seen tiger sharks all over Hawaii —no more so than on the island of Kauai. I’ve seen the silhouettes of the large ones out in the clear blue ocean from shore. I’ve seen them meandering up the coast. I’ve seen them when I looked down as they swam by just before I jumped in the water. I saw one on the crest of the next wave one time, heading straight for me. It went underneath me right before it reached me. I didn’t realize how scared I was until a friend paddled up and looked in my eyes. I couldn’t speak or move, but we both could hear my teeth chattering. He yelled at everyone to go in. I was left stuck out there until I got the nerve to paddle in. Strangely enough, I was the first to go back out an hour later in to the perfect surf. Something about the experience made me feel as though that shark wasn’t interested in me that afternoon.

I’m no stranger to swimming with sharks. I saw my first (and so far only) great white about three years ago at North Bird here in La Jolla. It was a cloudy gray day. I was on shore watching the waves. It was swimming north at what seemed like 25 miles per hour. It didn’t meander slowly like a tiger shark. It was moving in a straight line, fast. It surfaced and submerged three times. It reminded me of a submarine. It was big, maybe 15 feet or so. It was a rush to see that thing. Whew!

I’m not trying to scare anyone. Sharks are scary enough by themselves. I’ll be the first to admit that I am very afraid of them. I really do want to know whether or not it is safe to intentionally increase the seal population here. Will it attract great whites to our waters? There is a huge population of great whites to the north, about 200 to 800 miles from here, especially around the Farallon Islands by Drake’s Bay at the Point Reyes peninsula, north of San Francisco. As Ms. L. Jordan-Smith points out they come down here to give birth and raise their pups. If they discover a new source of their favorite food down here in La Jolla will one or two of the big ones be enticed to hang around?

It’s true they are generally not considered to be after humans for their meals but they do accidentally take a bite out of humans now and then. It’s going to be more dangerous to go in the water around here if we have an increase in the number of great whites lurking about. All it will take will be one or two to stake out this area as their new territory.

The thing I have always liked about coming home to San Diego from Hawaii is that I don’t have to worry about, and keep a look out for sharks here. It’s been such a relief to come home and not surf in shark-infested waters. It’s been real nice surfing here, in our relatively super-safe waters. One of the absolutely safest areas in the world as far as shark attacks are concerned. I agree with Ms. Jordan-Smith on that point and that’s exactly why I’m concerned. I’m afraid that’s changing.

Fifteen years from now La Jolla may be infested with a very large seal population and a few regular great white predators. By then they will have accidentally removed a few limbs and the breath of life from a few people. We’ll wonder why we didn’t have an honest discussion about this topic. It’s worth more study than just a quick dismissal from one self-proclaimed “expert” like Ms. Jordan-Smith. What exactly are her credentials? Can we get actual esteemed oceanographers from Scripps to take a serious look at this question and report to us on this subject? I think we should.